When you visit someone and they do not know you are coming, how many times do you ring the bell, or, knock on the door, before turning away? Is it once? Or do you keep on ringing for a minute? Five minutes? How often do you return to try again? Perhaps it depends on how urgent it is that you see the person?
In our Lord’s teaching about prayer one thing is very clear. It is not that we need to attain a certain psychological state. It is not that we need to have a type of feeling. One thing is clear, we need to persevere. We need to have the drive to pray and to continue in prayer.
In the gospel today our Lord assures us that if we ask, we shall receive. We should note here that He does not say “we shall receive it straight away.” But He asks us to trust our Heavenly Father to give us what we need. If a child asks his father for an egg, would the father give the child a scorpion? Of course not! So much more, our Lord tells us, will our Heavenly Father give us what we need. So in prayer we need to have buckets full of perseverance born of trust in the Goodness of our Heavenly Father.
So then if God does not seem to answer our prayer straight away, what is happening? Well first we must trust there is a reason. We need to persevere in trust. We do not need to have the reason. The Father does not need to explain Himself to us! But we need to continue trusting that our Father hears us and will, when the time is right, answer our prayer.
For us, of course, we want instant answers: if Google will answer our queries within seconds why not God? Of course we do not entrust to google what we bring to God in prayer! And we also need to keep reminding ourselves that God sees the overall picture so knows precisely when an answer to prayer is needed. We need to trust that.
I think one very helpful understanding of prayer is from St Paul, that it is a “groaning”, for he tells us that if we cannot pray as we ought, the Holy Spirit will pray for us with groans too deep for words. In prayer we may need to get to that stage where we can only groan! Our Father may want us to persist in prayer until all we can do is sigh, or groan. (Romans 8, esp. v26)
So let us ask today for the gift of perseverance in prayer – and let us pray that the Holy Spirit will indeed pray for us in sighs too deep for words. And let us be filled with confidence in our Heavenly Father who will indeed answer our prayer when it is best to do so. Amen.